The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


But you say this question should be left to the people of
Nebraska, because they are more particularly interested. If this
be the rule, you must leave it to each individual to say for
himself whether he will have slaves. What better moral right
have thirty-one citizens of Nebraska to say that the thirty-
second shall not hold slaves than the people of the thirty-one
States have to say that slavery shall not go into the thirty-
second State at all?

But if it is a sacred right for the people of Nebraska to take
and hold slaves there, it is equally their sacred right to buy
them where they can buy them cheapest; and that, undoubtedly,
will be on the coast of Africa, provided you will consent not to
hang them for going there to buy them. You must remove this
restriction, too, from the sacred right of self-government. I am
aware you say that taking slaves from the States to Nebraska does
not make slaves of freemen; but the African slave-trader can say
just as much. He does not catch free negroes and bring them
here. He finds them already slaves in the hands of their black
captors, and he honestly buys them at the rate of a red cotton
handkerchief a head. This is very cheap, and it is a great
abridgment of the sacred right of self-government to hang men for
engaging in this profitable trade.

Another important objection to this application of the right of
self-government is that it enables the first few to deprive the
succeeding many of a free exercise of the right of self-
government. The first few may get slavery in, and the subsequent
many cannot easily get it out. How common is the remark now in
the slave States, "If we were only clear of our slaves, how much
better it would be for us." They are actually deprived of the
privilege of governing themselves as they would, by the action of
a very few in the beginning. The same thing was true of the
whole nation at the time our Constitution was formed.

Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new Territories,
is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people who may go
there. The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be
made of these Territories. We want them for homes of free white
people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if
slavery shall be planted within them. Slave States are places
for poor white people to remove from, not to remove to. New free
States are the places for poor people to go to, and better their
condition. For this use the nation needs these Territories.

Still further: there are constitutional relations between the
slave and free States which are degrading to the latter. We are
under legal obligations to catch and return their runaway slaves
to them: a sort of dirty, disagreeable job, which, I believe, as
a general rule, the slaveholders will not perform for one
another. Then again, in the control of the government--the
management of the partnership affairs--they have greatly the
advantage of us. By the Constitution each State has two
senators, each has a number of representatives in proportion to
the number of its people, and each has a number of Presidential
electors equal to the whole number of its senators and
representatives together. But in ascertaining the number of the
people for this purpose, five slaves are counted as being equal
to three whites. The slaves do not vote; they are only counted
and so used as to swell the influence of the white people's
votes. The practical effect of this is more aptly shown by a
comparison of the States of South Carolina and Maine. South
Carolina has six representatives, and so has Maine; South
Carolina has eight Presidential electors, and so has Maine. This
is precise equality so far; and of course they are equal in
senators, each having two. Thus in the control of the government
the two States are equals precisely. But how are they in the
number of their white people? Maine has 581,813, while South
Carolina has 274,567; Maine has twice as many as South Carolina,
and 32,679 over. Thus, each white man in South Carolina is more
than the double of any man in Maine. This is all because South
Carolina, besides her free people, has 384,984 slaves. The South
Carolinian has precisely the same advantage over the white man in
every other free State as well as in Maine. He is more than the
double of any one of us in this crowd. The same advantage, but
not to the same extent, is held by all the citizens of the slave
States over those of the free; and it is an absolute truth,
without an exception, that there is no voter in any slave State
but who has more legal power in the government than any voter in
any free State. There is no instance of exact equality; and the
disadvantage is against us the whole chapter through. This
principle, in the aggregate, gives the slave States in the
present Congress twenty additional representatives, being seven
more than the whole majority by which they passed the Nebraska

Now all this is manifestly unfair; yet I do not mention it to
complain of it, in so far as it is already settled. It is in the
Constitution, and I do not for that cause, or any other cause,
propose to destroy, or alter, or disregard the Constitution. I
stand to it, fairly, fully, and firmly.

But when I am told I must leave it altogether to other people to
say whether new partners are to be bred up and brought into the
firm, on the same degrading terms against me, I respectfully
demur. I insist that whether I shall be a whole man or only the
half of one, in comparison with others is a question in which I
am somewhat concerned, and one which no other man can have a
sacred right of deciding for me. If I am wrong in this, if it
really be a sacred right of self-government in the man who shall
go to Nebraska to decide whether he will be the equal of me or
the double of me, then, after he shall have exercised that right,
and thereby shall have reduced me to a still smaller fraction of
a man than I already am, I should like for some gentleman, deeply
skilled in the mysteries of sacred rights, to provide himself
with a microscope, and peep about, and find out, if he can, what
has become of my sacred rights. They will surely be too small
for detection with the naked eye.

Finally, I insist that if there is anything which it is the duty
of the whole people to never intrust to any hands but their own,
that thing is the preservation and perpetuity of their own
liberties and institutions. And if they shall think as I do,
that the extension of slavery endangers them more than any or all
other causes, how recreant to themselves if they submit The
question, and with it the fate of their country, to a mere
handful of men bent only on seif-interest. If this question of
slavery extension were an insignificant one, one having no power
to do harm--it might be shuffled aside in this way; and being, as
it is, the great Behemoth of danger, shall the strong grip of the
nation be loosened upon him, to intrust him to the hands of such
feeble keepers?

I have done with this mighty argument of self-government. Go,
sacred thing! Go in peace.

But Nebraska is urged as a great Union-saving measure. Well, I
too go for saving the Union. Much as I hate slavery, I would
consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union
dissolved, just as I would consent to any great evil to avoid a
greater one. But when I go to Union-saving, I must believe, at
least, that the means I employ have some adaptation to the end.
To my mind, Nebraska has no such adaptation.

"It hath no relish of salvation in it."

It is an aggravation, rather, of the only one thing which ever
endangers the Union. When it came upon us, all was peace and
quiet. The nation was looking to the forming of new bends of
union, and a long course of peace and prosperity seemed to lie
before us. In the whole range of possibility, there scarcely
appears to me to have been anything out of which the slavery
agitation could have been revived, except the very project of
repealing the Missouri Compromise. Every inch of territory we
owned already had a definite settlement of the slavery question,
by which all parties were pledged to abide. Indeed, there was no
uninhabited country on the continent which we could acquire, if
we except some extreme northern regions which are wholly out of
the question.

In this state of affairs the Genius of Discord himself could
scarcely have invented a way of again setting us by the ears but
by turning back and destroying the peace measures of the past.
The counsels of that Genius seem to have prevailed. The Missouri
Compromise was repealed; and here we are in the midst of a new
slavery agitation, such, I think, as we have never seen before.
Who is responsible for this? Is it those who resist the measure,
or those who causelessly brought it forward, and pressed it
through, having reason to know, and in fact knowing, it must and
would be so resisted? It could not but be expected by its author
that it would be looked upon as a measure for the extension of
slavery, aggravated by a gross breach of faith.

Argue as you will and long as you will, this is the naked front
and aspect of the measure. And in this aspect it could not but
produce agitation. Slavery is founded in the selfishness of
man's nature--opposition to it in his love of justice. These
principles are at eternal antagonism, and when brought into
collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks
and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the
Missouri Compromise, repeal all compromises, repeal the
Declaration of Independence, repeal all past history, you still
cannot repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of
man's heart that slavery extension is wrong, and out of the
abundance of his heart his mouth will continue to speak.

The structure, too, of the Nebraska Bill is very peculiar. The
people are to decide the question of slavery for themselves; but
when they are to decide, or how they are to decide, or whether,
when the question is once decided, it is to remain so or is to be
subject to an indefinite succession of new trials, the law does
not say. Is it to be decided by the first dozen settlers who
arrive there, or is it to await the arrival of a hundred? Is it
to be decided by a vote of the people or a vote of the
Legislature, or, indeed, by a vote of any sort? To these
questions the law gives no answer. There is a mystery about
this; for when a member proposed to give the Legislature express
authority to exclude slavery, it was hooted down by the friends
of the bill. This fact is worth remembering. Some Yankees in
the East are sending emigrants to Nebraska to exclude slavery
from it; and, so far as I can judge, they expect the question to
be decided by voting in some way or other. But the Missourians
are awake, too. They are within a stone's-throw of the contested
ground. They hold meetings and pass resolutions, in which not
the slightest allusion to voting is made. They resolve that
slavery already exists in the Territory; that more shall go
there; that they, remaining in Missouri, will protect it, and
that abolitionists shall be hung or driven away. Through all
this bowie knives and six-shooters are seen plainly enough, but
never a glimpse of the ballot-box.

And, really, what is the result of all this? Each party within
having numerous and determined backers without, is it not
probable that the contest will come to blows and bloodshed?
Could there be a more apt invention to bring about collision and
violence on the slavery question than this Nebraska project is?
I do not charge or believe that such was intended by Congress;
but if they had literally formed a ring and placed champions
within it to fight out the controversy, the fight could be no
more likely to come off than it is. And if this fight should
begin, is it likely to take a very peaceful, Union-saving turn?
Will not the first drop of blood so shed be the real knell of the

The Missouri Compromise ought to be restored. For the sake of
the Union, it ought to be restored. We ought to elect a House of
Representatives which will vote its restoration. If by any means
we omit to do this, what follows? Slavery may or may not be
established in Nebraska. But whether it be or not, we shall have
repudiated--discarded from the councils of the nation--the spirit
of compromise; for who, after this, will ever trust in a national
compromise? The spirit of mutual concession--that spirit which
first gave us the Constitution, and which has thrice saved the
Union--we shall have strangled and cast from us forever. And
what shall we have in lieu of it? The South flushed with triumph
and tempted to excess; the North, betrayed as they believe,
brooding on wrong and burning for revenge. One side will
provoke, the other resent. The one will taunt, the other defy;
one aggresses, the other retaliates. Already a few in the North
defy all constitutional restraints, resist the execution of the
Fugitive Slave law, and even menace the institution of slavery in
the States where it exists. Already a few in the South claim the
constitutional right to take and to hold slaves in the free
States, demand the revival of the slave trade, and demand a
treaty with Great Britain by which fugitive slaves may be
reclaimed from Canada. As yet they are but few on either side.
It is a grave question for lovers of the union whether the final
destruction of the Missouri Compromise, and with it the spirit of
all compromise, will or will not embolden and embitter each of
these, and fatally increase the number of both.

But restore the compromise, and what then? We thereby restore
the national faith, the national confidence, the national feeling
of brotherhood. We thereby reinstate the spirit of concession
and compromise, that spirit which has never failed us in past
perils, and which may be safely trusted for all the future. The
South ought to join in doing this. The peace of the nation is as
dear to them as to us. In memories of the past and hopes of the
future, they share as largely as we. It would be on their part a
great act--great in its spirit, and great in its effect. It
would be worth to the nation a hundred years purchase of peace
and prosperity. And what of sacrifice would they make? They
only surrender to us what they gave us for a consideration long,
long ago; what they have not now asked for, struggled or cared
for; what has been thrust upon them, not less to their
astonishment than to ours.

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